Hitman Jeff Costello (Delon) lives alone, his profession preventing him from ever forming real relationships. Leaving a club one night, having completed a contract by killing the owner, Jeff lets his guard fall and is seen by the club's singer, Valerie (Perier). It's not long before he's on the run from the police and his contractors.
The samurai is Jeff Costello (Alain Delon), an assassin-for-hire with a Buster Keaton stone-face and the coolest hat in French cinema.
Living with his canary in a shabby flat, Costello accepts commissions for the money but kills with a professional fanaticism that borders on psychosis. After executing the manager of a chrome-and-darkness nightclub, Costello makes a rare slip and is seen by Valerie (Rosier), an enigmatic black jazz pianist. His ritualistic routine shattered, Costello is hunted down by the police and his employers. Delon's face never cracks but he falls to pieces inside and becomes obsessed with Valerie, whose refusal to identify him at a line-up suggests her own involvement in the web of crime. At once a riveting thriller and a nightmare of chic urban alienation, this 1967 production is the most ruthlessly effective of Melville's reinterpretations of the dark world of Hollywood's gangster noirs of the 30s and 40s.
With a lone killer, dogged cops and criminals acting with cruel efficiency, the film has a haunting coldness, epitomised by Delon's bleakly anonymous lifestyle. Shot in steely tones, it has a monochrome look deliberately designed to evoke old movies; everything is colourless, even to the extent of using photocopies of banknotes or packages. There are perfectly-staged suspense scenes (a quiet pursuit through the Metro) and the intricate conspiracy is ultimately unravelled, but this is memorable mainly for its hard-edged style and potent vision of zero-degree life in a limbo-like parallel world. Outstanding.
Keeping the dialogue minimal and the action high on the agenda, life in Paris' underworld proves to be surprisingly yet suitably violent and threatening.